As the regional trail network expands, so are the business opportunities along the trails.
According to David Kahley, President and CEO of The Progress Fund, the people that participated in the initial Power of 32 community conversations saw the initiative to develop a regional trail system as both a recreational asset and a community development opportunity.
That has certainly been the result of the Progress Fund's Trail Town Program®, an economic development and community revitalization initiative working in "Trail Towns" along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). The program's purpose is to ensure that trail communities and businesses maximize the economic potential of the trail. The Progress Fund encourages businesses to start-up or expand to serve the growing number of trail riders, and they also lend the money that these business need.
The Progress Fund started 15 years ago, mostly lending to small businesses in the Laurel Highlands of Western, Pennsylvania. The loans to over 254 businesses included 23 businesses directly related to trail activities; all of which are still operating successfully.
When the Power of 32 realized the success of The Progress Fund's Trail Town Program, and what it was doing for small towns, they asked them to expand the program throughout the region.
"We have promised and pledged to expand the Trail Town Program—our resources and knowledge that we gained from making loans and working in small towns the last 15 years —across the Power of 32 region in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland," explains Kahley.
"People go out on the trails and come back hungry and thirsty, they frequent restaurants, spend the night at B&Bs, do some shopping, visit wineries and art galleries," explains Kahley. "Whether it's Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio or Maryland, what people want is the same. So, what we have learned in the Laurel Highlands can be implemented across the region."
Kahley says that towns with starting and end points for trail activity create a rallying point for revitalization. He points to Foxburg, a very small town along the Allegheny River in Clarion County, PA, as a successful trail town. With only six miles of trail to date, the town has added a pizzeria, hotel, winery, chocolate shop, coffee shop and a convenience store to support tourism and improve the local economy.
Closer to Pittsburgh, Kahley points to West Newton, PA, where the Trail Side Café offers a patio café, bar, package store and a bike shop right on the trail head; a Fox's Pizza Den moved to a trailside location; and the local B&B was turning so many people away that they bought a neighboring house and doubled their size.